It is almost time for the 2020 NFL season when American football returns to Sky Sports!
After a long summer of uncertainty, our first-ever virtual NFL Draft, and a slow return to offseason practice at team facilities, we are edging ever closer to regular-season kickoff.
Assuming the schedule goes ahead as planned, we have picked out some of the most highly-anticipated games worth circling on your calendars ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Now, one important caveat to this list is that we have picked out non-division games.
It would be all too easy to identify Tom Brady versus Drew Brees, Seahawks against 49ers, Cowboys-Eagles and many other familiar rivalries as the best games in the schedule. We already know they will be great!
So, here are some of the non-division games you should be keeping an eye out for…
Week One – Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
What a way to start!
The tradition of the defending Super Bowl champions opening up the NFL season returns following a year off – the historical matchup of the Packers and Bears kicked off the NFL’s 100th season in 2019 – and we’re being spoiled with a Mahomes-Watson rematch.
Mahomes vs Watson: Kicking off the season in style
Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson will face each other on the NFL’s opening night.
The pair put on one hell of a show in the divisional round of the playoffs last year, combining for 709 yards and seven passing touchdowns, of which Mahomes accounted for five as Kansas City came back from a 24-0 deficit to score 41 unanswered points in a staggering 51-31 triumph.
These two young quarterbacks are set to slug it out for AFC domination over the next decade or two. We just have to sit back and enjoy.
Week Two – New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders
Welcome to Sin City. Week Two is expected to see the stunning Allegiant Stadium open its doors to its first ever NFL game as the Raiders kick off life in Las Vegas against the Saints.
The lavish Vegas back-drop promises to make it a memorable red-carpet moment for the Raiders franchise. Fireworks off the field could be matched by fireworks on it as Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs III move centre stage as prime weapons for their respective quarterbacks.
Though fans won’t be in attendance, you can trust Vegas to make the opening grand in nature.
Week Three – Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens
Patrick Mahomes. Lamar Jackson. The reigning Super Bowl champions versus 2019’s No 1 ranked scoring offense. Expect special things.
The Ravens host the Chiefs for the first time since 2015 as Jackson looks to record his first career win over Kansas. Behold the matchup most expected to see make up last season’s AFC Championship game and two young quarterbacks capable of running the league for the next decade.
Week Seven – San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots
It was meant to be the Brady vs Garoppolo grudge match: the storied, six-time Super Bowl winning Patriots quarterback against his supposed heir apparent, who was traded away midway through the 2017 season.
So the story goes that head coach Bill Belichick was eyeing up Garoppolo as New England’s future starter, only for his hand to be forced in reluctantly trading him to the QB-needy San Francisco after the intervention of owner Robert Kraft.
Brady delivered a sixth Super Bowl for the franchise a year later and has since moved on to Tampa – not before the briefest of flirtations from the 49ers themselves. Was Belichick right to believe in Jimmy G? Is he Tom Brady 2.0? Or would both be better with Brady under center?
This Week Seven showdown could answer those questions, with Cam Newton’s presence in New England a fascinating addition to the equation.
Week Nine – Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
Week Nine provides a refreshing dose of 70s nostalgia as the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Dallas Cowboys in a reminder of the Steel Curtain and Doomsday Defense era.
While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continues his comeback after struggling with injury in 2019, Dak Prescott will be hoping to have put the Cowboys firmly in playoff contention after last year’s failure to reach the post-season.
It will also come around the mid-way point of an important individual campaign for Prescott, who will be playing on the franchise tag as he works towards a lucrative new deal.
Week Nine – Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals
We head west for what could be (fingers crossed) one of the most exciting games of the year between two of the young stud quarterbacks in the NFL.
Picture this: Tua Tagovailoa has won and settled into the starting role for the Dolphins, and Miami have finally started winning games as their rookie fifth overall pick is leading the resurgence. Meanwhile, 2019 No 1 overall pick Kyler Murray is enjoying a second-year breakout reminiscent of previous two MVPs Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
Tagovailoa and Murray offer great hope to Dolphins and Cards fans, and we could be watching the early days of two blossoming careers.
Week Nine – Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco embarrassed Green Bay in last year’s NFC Championship game, as Raheem Mostert memorably ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns while Aaron Rodgers was harassed all day. This season, will these teams once again be vying for the NFC top seed? Or is a regression on the cards?
This Thursday Night Football matchup also comes right in the middle of a huge stretch for the 49ers. From Weeks Eight-Ten, they visit Seattle, welcome Green Bay, then head over to New Orleans to face the Saints. They won all three of these fixtures last season but will their opponents gain revenge?
Week 11 – Cincinnati Bengals at Washington
Although not a ‘high-profile’ game, there are some juicy story lines here.
As the Bengals approach season crunch time, will No 1 overall pick Joe Burrow have them in contention? Coming out of their bye week, Cincinnati face four teams with a combined 20-44 record in 2019 (Steelers, Washington, Giants and Dolphins) in a crucial stretch.
Washington also have plenty of interest this year, with new coach Ron Rivera and two former Ohio State Buckeyes leading the charge. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins actually beat out Burrow at OSU in 2018 before his Week 11 opponent transferred to LSU and made history.
Chase Young, meanwhile, was drafted one pick behind his once-teammate Burrow but was widely seen as the most talented player of the entire group. How much will he have impacted the Washington D in his rookie campaign?
Week 12 – Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You might be surprised we’ve taken this long to pick out a Tom Brady game, but we are going to take this opportunity to highlight them all as he faces a few memorable foes.
Over the last two seasons, Brady and Mahomes have enjoyed three epic back-and-forth encounters, all finishing within a score. Brady has a 2-1 record but the 96-94 point differential tells you how close those games have been. Will Brady’s Bucs provide the same level of competition?
We will also get a Super Bowl 52 QB rematch as Brady visits Nick Foles and the Bears, a similar battle with Brady vs Jared Goff, and a rare Brady vs Aaron Rodgers game. All of those will have been before this enthralling Week 12 fixture which comes at a crucial stage of the season.
Week 15 – Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints
Two of many peoples’ favourites to be slugging it out in Super Bowl LV come February 7, 2021, and we get a little sneak peak as to what that matchup might look like in Week 15.
One thing you can guarantee; there will be points! The Saints have been a top-five scoring offense in each of the past four seasons, while Mahomes – in his two years as an NFL starter – has led the Chiefs to such lofty heights, including topping the table in 2018.
This one has all the makings of the epic, unforgettable Monday-night shootout between the Rams and Chiefs from two years’ ago that finished 54-51. We can only hope.
Week 15 – Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
How will Odell Beckham Jr. be received by Giants fans when he returns to MetLife in Week 15? Boos? Applause?
The city of New York answered that this offseason as it was announced there would be no fans at home games for the Jets or Giants in 2020.
Nonetheless, by this point we’ll have a good idea of what kind of season it has been for the wide receiver, who was unable to show anything close to his best with the Browns in 2019.
It’s an opportunity for the three-time Pro Bowler to show the Giants what they lost up close and personal. He’ll come up against close friends in Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard, both of whom are expected to play key roles in Joe Judge’s first season as head coach.
Week 16 – Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Can you say ‘Minneapolis Miracle’? That’s all the context needed for this Week 16 showdown between these two teams.
We’re nearly three years’ on from Stefon Diggs’ game-winning touchdown in the dying seconds of the Vikings’ divisional round playoff win over the Saints, but we haven’t yet moved on – even if Diggs himself has, swapping Minneapolis for the (warmer?) climbs of Buffalo this offseason.
The Saints are on their home turf at least this time, though this isn’t the first chance they’ve had to write the wrongs of that painful playoff defeat. New Orleans were way too hospitable in allowing Minnesota to waltz into their home on Wild Card weekend last year and leave with a 26-20 overtime victory.
You can count on Sean Payton and his Saints squad having this Week 16 showdown circled on their schedule. And it’s only right we follow suit.
When you pick out just 12 games from the 256 scheduled, you are bound to miss out on some greats. Many potentially exciting teams aren’t even mentioned here and as happens every year, there will be big-time flops, surprising breakouts and story lines developing weekly. But here are a few that could have made the cut…
We mentioned the first game at Allegiant Stadium, but what about the first game in SoFi Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers? In Week One, Sean McVay’s Rams host the Dallas Cowboys and their explosive offense.
There’s the ‘Ron Rivera Bowl’, as after spending nine seasons as Carolina’s head coach, he will welcome the Panthers to Washington in Week 16.
How about the high levels of competition and tension in some playoff ‘rematches’ from last season?
The Titans first shocked the Patriots in the playoffs last season, then bullied Baltimore on the road. Derrick Henry and company will look to do it again when they visit the Ravens in Week 11. After Russell Wilson and the Seahawks twice rolled into Philadelphia to win last season – the scoreline 17-9 on both occasions – Eagles will host them again in Week 12.